RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON: Why Cinemark Theaters Aren't Playing Disney's Newest Film

Raya and the Last Dragon released this week in theaters and on Disney+, but a contract dispute has prevented the Disney film from showing in Cinemark theaters in the U.S.

Raya and the Last Dragon released on Friday, debuting simultaneously in theaters and on the Disney+ streaming service. While Raya is playing in over 2,000 theaters, including 200 IMAX screens, Disney's latest feature film from Pixar is noticeably absent from one major theater chain: Cinemark.

News of the No. 3 U.S. exhibitor not showing Raya and the Last Dragon broke earlier this week with Deadline reporting that the decision was ultimately the result of failed negotiations between Disney and Cinemark. With COVID-19 bringing the theatergoing experience to a halt for basically all of 2020, movie studios started to turn to streaming services to release their films. Some released their movies for free as a way to attract subscribers (like WarnerMedia with HBO Max), while others charged a premium access fee to subscribers (like Disney with Disney+).

This change to a day-and-date theatrical release has forced companies like Warner Bros. and Disney to renegotiate contracts with exhibitors. In some cases, like with WarnerMedia, they lowered their rental terms. That's why we're still seeing HBO Max titles like Wonder Woman 1984 and Tom & Jerry also show in theaters.

Deadline spoke with sources alleging that Disney "remained quite tough on their terms for Raya." Rather than roll over and accept these terms, Cinemark did the only thing it can do in response: not play the movie. It's a move that's reminiscent of when Disney tried to demand 65% of ticket revenues and a four-week run commitment to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Cinemark isn't the only exhibitor to not play Raya and the Last Dragon. In Canada, Harkins and Cineplex also aren't showing the movie.

Commenting on the negotiations with Disney for Raya, a Cinemark representative told Deadline:

In the current operating environment, we are making near-term booking decisions on a discrete, film-by-film basis, focusing on the long-term benefit of exhibitors, studios and moviegoers. While we are having conversations with The Walt Disney Company, we have not yet reached agreeable licensing terms for Raya and the Last Dragon. As we continue to work with our studio partners, we remain optimistic that we will reach mutually beneficial terms that will provide moviegoers the opportunity to see the exciting film lineup in our theatres.

With cases trending downward and much of the country starting to open back up, it will be interesting to see how theater chains and movie studios react to the change in consumer behavior. Will the movie experience ever return to how it was pre-COVID? Will studios continue to rely on streaming services should the box office results continue to disappoint? And if so, will these sort of contract disputes continue with even bigger films like Marvel's Black Widow?

It will be interesting to track Raya and the Last Dragon's box office and streaming service performance. The Walt Disney Animation Studios' film has received glowing reviews and has been dubbed an "instant classic" with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 95% with over 200 reviews.

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